I love a book which takes me by surprise, and this one I found totally unpredictable. The opening is intriguing - a young girl, Rioletta, is abducted by a strange tree-like creature who was himself abducted as a human baby (hence his name, Stolen). She is returned unharmed, but the adults at her village disbelieve her story. When she is a few years older, Rioletta is set the task of finding out exactly what happened to her.
Behind all this is the recent history in this world - about a hundred years ago, the population all moved away from the cities and began living a simpler life in villages, ruled by councils of sorcerors, where magic and technology are both tightly restricted. The different villages trade with each other, but there is political unrest in some of them, and some of the sorcerors are breaking away and trying to relearn the forbidden magics. All of this is intriguing, and a refreshing change from the more stereotyped fantasy settings.
The writing style is a little flat, with a rather cool, formal tone, which occasionally becomes clunky. Sometimes I felt that the dialogue was quite stilted, and a more informal or colloquial expression would have lightened things. There is quite a lot of exposition, but it is well-scattered and never becomes too much of an info-dump, and at least it makes it easy to work out what is going on. The characters are mostly a little flat too. The most interesting is Cardon - why is it always the troubled misfit who appeals most? The well-behaved ones so often come across as rather dull, and virtually everyone in the book is almost unnaturally well-behaved - mature, sensible and compliant. A few flaws would have made them more interesting, I feel.
This is not an all-action book, and anyone looking for epic battles and sword-wielding warriors had better look elsewhere. There are moments of sudden action, but they are swiftly over. Mostly the story unfolds gradually, through dialogue rather than high-octane adventure, and a great deal of the most disruptive events of the book are off-screen, as it were, and only revealed second or third hand. The best parts of the book, for me, were those where the characters were right in the middle of the action, rather than sitting around talking, and especially in the chaotic town of Tabor. The council building, with its hidden doors and distorting stairs, was wonderful, and I loved Cardon's created horses - one of those moments where I was completely taken by surprise, but which fitted perfectly with his personality and the needs of the plot. Very nice.
Some grumbles: the ebook formatting is not great, with blank pages and chapter titles the same size as the text. A map would have been useful, too. Although the author is very clear about which direction the characters are heading in, I found it hard to follow and a map would have made everything much clearer, especially as the locations of places are quite significant at times.
This is an unusual and interesting book which I enjoyed. It's one of the few books where I read the sample, liked it, bought the book and just carried on reading, instead of leaving it sitting on my Kindle for a while. I felt it sagged a little in the middle, with the long discussions about Tabor and its confusing multitude of councils, but it picked up again quite quickly. There are some great ideas here, especially the Lefollah (the tree people) and the well thought out background history, although some plot elements are perhaps not totally original, and anyone who's read 'The Lord of the Rings' will recognise certain scenes. The story was good, but I would have liked a little more emotion to bring the characters to life, and a little more tension, and a bit less sitting around talking. Nevertheless, a well-written book. A good three stars.